ETHAN FIELD, Peace Corps Volunteer, Tanzania

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Ethan Field, Peace Corps Volunteer, Tanzania

Ethan Field, Peace Corps Volunteer, Tanzania

Peace Corps Volunteer, Tanzania

Last Updated: 1 August 2001


Greetings from Tanzania! I'm writing to you from Monduli, a little town just to the northwest of Arusha, Tanzania, in East Africa. I'm here teaching A-Level secondary school physics with the U.S. Peace Corps. I arrived here in October 1998 and spent two months in training before coming to Monduli, where I will be teaching Physics until December 2001.

You may well wonder how a person living less than a half hour walk from the Maasai bush is managing to maintain a web site. Well, Monduli is blessed with electricity, however sporadic, and I'm able to keep my laptop semi-regularly charged (though when I first composed this web page, I was typing by the light of a kerosene lamp; the irony is delicious). Direct phones arrived in Monduli in 2000, so I can now communicate freely with the decline of the Western Civilization. I can check email from my very own home on my very own phone, though browsing and downloading are prohibitively slow.

The space for this website is being provided by the abstract yet groovy mathematician Anthony Bucci III. I'm not sure what interesting things he's featuring on his own pages. My page here isn't really a home page or anything; its purpose is not to introduce me as a person to new folks or to hock any of my cheap wares. It's mostly for my friends and family to read about, and especially to take a look at, some of the things I've seen and done since coming here. Needless to say, it's also a "page in progress," so please stop by from time to time to look for new stories and pictures. If you want a much more professional-looking page, check out Ben and Sara Davidson's web site. They are a married couple serving as PCVs in the southern coastal region of Mtwara.

Tales of a Far-Off Land

Last Updated: 1 August 2001

Many of you are receiving my Letters From Tanzania. I've been writing about once a month from my home here in lovely Monduli. I write about my life and personal experiences, my joys and frustrations, and also about Tanzanian life in general. Many of you have already read them by email; here they are in their full formatted-text glory.

Picture Pages

Last Updated: 1 August 2001

Picture pages, picture pages, come and get your picture pages... Here are some images from events in my life. They're not necessarily representative of my day-to-day life in Peace Corps, but my family and friends should enjoy seeing some of my Peace Corps friends and some of the things I do in my free time.

Endelea Na Usalama
(Continue On In Peace)

I hope you enjoy these thoughts and images from my life... as I've said above, these pages really don't stand for me or my work in Peace Corps as a whole, they serve more as a forum for folks who already know me to get a peek at my life that they might not otherwise.

If you have some questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you'd like to 'subscribe' to the "Letters from Tanzania," please feel free to contact me at If you'd actually like to send me a letter or (woohoo!) a care package, my address here is:

Mwl. Ethan Field
P.O. Box 60
Monduli, Arusha

Phone: 011-255-27-253-823

4 November 1998

Hello, America!

This is Ethan Field writing to you from sunny Arusha, site of the Peace Corps Tanzania Training Center. I have been here for a little over one month, and am finally beginning to settle in to the language and culture. Somewhat. J This email is a bit long because there are so many things I have to share, so feel free to read it in chunks. The chunk about my new address is at the bottom if you want to skip to there. Hang on!


Many people think my poor white skin is frying down here... this is only partly true. The bare sun is pretty fierce, but the air itself is not very hot. Arusha is over a mile above sea level, so the breeze is fairly cool, and aside from the dust everywhere, relatively fresh. It was worse in Ohio when I left. Same temperature, much less humidity. (It is much more humid on the coast of Tanzania, though.)


The sun rises here every morning around 6 or 6:30. It sets at the same time in the evening. Every day, all year --after all, I'm at about 3 degrees South latitude. However, I am told that the hot season (December-February) is a bit hotter than the cool season (June-August). There is a short rain in November and a longer one in Feb-March)


Very dusty and dry everywhere. In a month, though, I will be knee deep in mud. I'll give you all further reports as time goes on. Only the main roads (about five of them in Arusha) are paved, and even the paved ones are riddled with pot holes such that on the nice ones you can go about 50 kph (30 mph) and on the bad ones you might be able to run faster than most buses can go.


Right now I live about 10k from the training site, which is a bit of a hike, so I take the Daladala. The daladala is like a stretch minivan or microbus that typically has seats for about 12 people. It's pretty typical that about 20 people will be stuffed into one; in fact, most drivers won't even leave until there are at least 15. We take this over the aforementioned roads, so there's a lot of crashing around and the occasional flipping over (this has not yet happened to me).

Though people drive on the left side of the street here (former British colony) there is really no concept of "lanes" in town. They just sort of drive wherever they can and when someone is in their way, they pass them in any way they can. Often the dirt on the side of the road is in better condition than the road itself and so it will be used.


That would be "no", and I haven't seen any of those yet. They're more over in the lakes region. However, this past Sunday I went on a day trip with some other volunteers to Tarangire National Park, where I saw almost a hundred elephants, a few giraffes, hundreds of zebra, dozens of baboons and other monkeys, impalas, gazelles, water buffalo, wild boar, and all kinds of crazy birds.

Understand, also, that we're not talking about being on the other side of a fence, here. We had to wait ten minutes for a herd of zebra to cross the road at one point. At another, we passed about 5 meters from a family of elephants. After we passed, mama elephant made it quite clear that she didn't like us so close to her baby and gave us a good trumpeting. I've got plenty of good pictures.


I'm staying with a host family here, which has its good and bad sides. On the one hand, I have my meals made for me, and my clothes washed, by the family. On the other hand, if I'm not home by supper (8PM) people start worrying. Also, there's not a whole lot of privacy living in a four bedroom house with a family of eight -- especially when I have a room all to myself.

Some of my Peace Corps colleagues have actual toilets and showers in their host homes; not so with mine. We've got a separate stall for bathing (a little shed with a door and a hole for the water to go out) where you bring your own hot water in a bucket and use a bowl to pour it over yourself -- I'll be bathing this way for the next two years! J Also in the same little shed, the "choo" (rhymes with blow) is located. It's basically a hole in the ground with bricks on either side to put your feet on while you squat and do your business. It's definitely different.

Contrary to popular belief, there is toilet paper in Tanzania, it's just that most folks use their hands and a bucket of water. I am told by the Peace Corps people who prefer this method that it gets you cleaner, but I'm still not completely sold on it. So, I just get used to carrying my own roll with me everywhere (which I can by at any corner shack)


Mzungu is the general kiswahili word for white person. It can have negative connotations, but doesn't always. For instance, a group of little children running at me shouting "Mzungu!" are probably just very excited to see me. On the other hand, after I start speaking the language, they usually stop saying that word around me.

It is very interesting being in a place where I am obviously an outsider. There is no way for me to pretend I'm a local, and people generally assume I don't know any of the language (since most of the folks who come through Arusha are tourists on their way to Kilimanjaro or the Serengeti.)

For this reason, the locals will stare at me everywhere I go. I was bothered by this for a short time until I realized that whenever I see a Mzungu that I don't know, I tend to stare at them and wonder what they're doing. After I realized that, I wasn't as bothered. Most of the rest of the time this can be cured by assertive greeting; if someone continues to stare at me, I greet them in kiswahili, and that usually softens them up and we exchange greetings, which are very important in Africa.


For all of you who were concerned about me getting my shots, thank you, I've had more than enough now. I've been immunized for tetanus, rabies, hepatitis, typhoid, and a host of other diseases that are much less prevalent in the USA because of these very vaccines. (Many of these involved more than one shot over several days). I am also taking a weekly pill to suppress malaria. It doesn't prevent it, just slows it down enough so that if I get it, I have plenty of time to take the stuff that will wipe it out of my system.


There are about 50 people in my training class, a little more than half are teachers, a little less than half are environmental workers. Education Training has worked like this so far: The first week we met at the site Monday through Saturday. The next week we began observing at local schools (I was at Arusha Meru Secondary) Monday-Thursday and were at the Training site on Friday and Saturday. This continued for four weeks, except that in our second week we began teaching the classes.

Secondary school classes are taught in English (not just Peace Corps, all secondary classes in Tanzania), about which there is some controversy. It is the decision of the Ministry of Education, though, and we work within their guidelines. Part of the issue is that if you want to make any real money in Tz, you have to speak English because most of the money comes from Mzungus. It's a complicated issue.


Contrary to another popular belief, Peace Corps is NOT about Americans coming in and imposing our American values on "the poor heathens". We are not representatives of the US Department of State or Defense. As a matter of fact, people who have had any affiliation with a US intelligence agency are strictly forbidden from joining Peace Corps. A quick fluffy official background:

Mission of the Peace Corps:
To promote world peace and friendship (I'm not kidding, this is the verbatim mission of the Peace Corps Act as approved by Congress in 1961)

The Three Goals of Peace Corps:
1) To provide skilled labor to countries in need
2) To promote a better understanding of Americans by the people of the world.
3) To promote better understanding of the people of the world by Americans.
(You are experiencing #3 right now -- I have also added:)
4) To promote a better understanding of Peace Corps by Americans.

As far as I can gather, the intention is to take good American people with skills, train them heavily, and then to try and make Tanzanians out of them. They want me to be as close as possible to a native Tanzanian, but one who has the education that I've gotten in the United States, and the skills I've learned in Peace Corps training.

In addition to our regular jobs, each volunteer is expected to become involved in Community Development activities. It is true that the "old school" of Peace Corps Community development (back in the day of Dad and Aunt Lynn) was considered "need based" community development: Entering a community, trying to determine its needs, and helping the local people meet those needs. This often involved volunteers imposing their idea of what the community "needed" on them.

The "new school" is called "Asset Based" development (informally known as the "glass half full" method) where a volunteer takes a very long time to observe the community carefully, and sees what things it does well or likes to do, and encourages that through idea-sharing. Do the students like to play football (what we call soccer)? Organize a football team for the school, and make sure the students are the ones in charge of it. Do the women of the village love to sew? Find a woman who might be interested in running a group who repairs school uniforms.

The idea is that rather than coming up with the "solutions" myself, and imposing my own idea of what my village needs, I will wait and see what the village wants to do and help guide their leaders through it, and encourage new leaders out of the group by harnessing their passion for what they are interested in. This way, there is sufficient leadership in the community to solve their own problems, which only they will be able to determine accurately. When I leave, they should be able to continue on without missing a beat.

It is true that it is impossible for me to be here without some of my "American Values" or at least my "Ethan Values" being shared or becoming apparent. However, as one person in a village of several hundred, it would be impossible for me to impose anything on my community. My ideas will be just one more crazy idea from outside, they'll take them or leave them as they wish. If I were in the US and a Tanzanian came to my school to teach for two years, I don't think he or she would be very likely to radically alter the values of my community. But I might drop an idea here or there that might stick in some way (for instance, if I choose to employ methods of disciplining my students than corporal punishment, fewer teachers may beat their students in the future. Maybe, Maybe not. Who can say?)

The thing I have liked most about the training is that our trainers have stressed the subjectivity and ambiguity of everything. They leave almost all decisions up to the judgement of the volunteers. "It's your choice" is the most common answer to a question about any quandary a volunteer has. A sample of such:

"The teachers beat the students at my school, and I can't stand it! Should I say something?"

"It's your choice. You can protest immediately and risk undermining the existing method of discipline at the school, or you can not say anything for two years and quietly let it happen. Most people fall somewhere in between, becoming part of the community first and then introducing alternative methods when they feel comfortable doing so. The only Peace Corps rule is, you can't beat them yourselves -- although some volunteers have even done that in order to fit into their school at first."


The impossible is possible. Admittedly, I haven't met any native UUs, but it turns out that (at least) two other volunteers who are currently serving are UU. One I discovered that I had met at Con Con in 1992. The other I hadn't met, but she is from Cincinnati and knows Daren Fowler and other OVD UUs that I've met. For further irony, this one from Cincinnati is the PCV who I will be replacing in December, which brings me to....


Last week, I learned the location of my permanent site (i.e., where I will be from 12/98 to 12/00) As it turns out, I am going the shortest distance from Arusha of any volunteer. I will be in Monduli, which is about 45k (1.5 hours by bus) from Arusha, situated here in the northern part of Tanzania, right in between the mountains in the East (Kilimanjaro and Meru) and the Parks to the West (Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater). Each of these is less than a half a day's trip from here. (Some volunteers are 3 or 4 days trip from Arusha, and in the rainy season will not be able to leave their town at all. The Odden family will be happy to learn the this year, for the first time, there will be two volunteers on Ukerewe island in Lake Victoria)

This weekend (7 November) I will be going to visit my site for one week; I will supply you with more specific details about it when I have returned. What I do have now is the address I will be using. Any letters you send to me after about 15 November should be sent to:

Mwalimu Ethan Field
P.O. Box 98
Monduli, Arusha
East Africa

The title "Mwalimu" before my name means "teacher" and apparently helps the mail get there a little faster. The "Arusha" is necessary because that is the name of the region I'm in. Those of you who have my training address; it will still work but will take much longer to get to me.

Well, there is still much I have to tell about the weather, my school, the Tanzanian school system in general, the kiswahili language, etc., but I fear this is much too long already, and I will have more time to better describe things later. For now, I thank you all for your continued support, and look forward to hearing from you soon!

Uhuru na Umoja,

Return to Letters from Tanzania

15 November 1998

Hello friends,

I have just returned from my future home in Monduli and want to tell you all about it. This email (and future emails) won't be quite as long as the last one. I'll be pacing myself from now on. J


The town of Monduli is, again, about 45k outside of Arusha, on these roads, that means a 1.5 hour bus ride. The town is at the foot of Mount Monduli, a little mountain in the same range as Kilimanjaro and Meru. The town is at the base, my school is a little further up, and my house is a little further up yet. Once you're up by my house, you can look out the front door over about 100 miles of the Maasai Steppe. On a clear day, you can just see forever to the south.

The roads are lined with Jacaranda trees, which have beautiful lavender flowers this time of year. In town, I can buy most of the fruits, veggies, grains, and beans I want -- even peanut butter! (A delicacy here). There is also a weekly market where hundreds people from the countryside come in and sell clothes, shoes, huge bags of beans or rice, all for rock-bottom prices.

The town is right on the edge (nay, well into) the Maasai land. In fact, if you ignore the students and teachers at the three schools in town, I'd guess that about 80% of the townie population has Kiswahili as their second language, their first being Kimaasai. So I'll be learning all the Maasai greetings and formalities in addition to the Swahili I've been learning.


About 500 students, both Ordinary and Advanced Level. I'll be teaching A-Level physics for both Form 5 and Form 6. (I will explain "Forms" in a later mailing about the Tanzanian Educational system. ) I have about 20-25 kids in each class, a good number and a comfortable size. The kids are all very eager to learn -- though it's hard to use the word "kids" when some of them are in fact 26 or 27 years old. I have begun to grow a beard so they don't suspect I'm 3-4 years younger than some of them.

The staff is really incredible. So much respect is given to the students, which is particularly important at a boarding school. The students and student government are allowed to make most of their own decisions, and the Headmaster almost always supports them, even when he doesn't completely agree with them. In America, this may be considered mildly admirable, but here this is astounding. In my internship here in Arusha, I observed lots of corporal punishment, and students had absolutely no say in what happened to them. At Moringe, corporal punishment is rarely used. It's quite a relief.


I'll be living in a relatively small house with another American volunteer (non-Peace Corps) from the Lutheran Church. He'll be teaching math. I'm a little concerned, because we usually only have running water for about two hours a day, which we'll put into a tank and try to make last the rest of the day. Bathing, cooking, drinking, and toilet flushing water for two folks? That ain't much. We do have a sit-down toilet, which is quite a relief. We also have an electric stove and oven, which puts us in the lap of luxury.

Even still, there's another Lutheran volunteer up the hill who not only has the toilet and the oven, but a refrigerator and hot running water as well! Hence, I will be able to even keep some goodies around for a few days if they need to be kept cold. I just have to walk up the mountain to get them.

I'll be moving to my site about December 7th, which basically means starting now, letters should be sent to my new address, which again, is:

Mwalimu Ethan Field
P.O. Box 98
Monduli, Arusha
East Africa

Of course, you can email me, too -- it may or may not get to me faster depending on how often I go into town -- but it's certainly cheaper and easier for y'all. I look forward to hearing from all of you, and if you have any questions at all, please ask; your request could be the subject of my next message!

Uhuru na Umoja,

Return to Letters from Tanzania

8 December 1998

Hello again friends,

I have just returned from Dar es Salaam, the capital and largest city in Tanzania, where I was sworn in on the 3rd as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. The next day, there was a picture of our group on the front cover of at least three different national Tanzanian newspapers. It's a little strange to walk down the street in a city I'm visiting for the first time and see my face staring back at me from every newsstand. It was plenty of fun, though, pointing myself out in the to the newsstand owner. He was a bit taken aback.


Dar is a crazy city. It's much bigger than anything I've seen here in Tanzania; it looks to be about the size of Indianapolis, maybe a little smaller... and a lot dirtier. There are actually lines painted on the roads here, and some people even obey the traffic laws. I even saw stop lights at some intersections. (There's not a single one in Arusha, the country's 3rd largest city). There are many hotels and several discos, all with prostitutes coming out in droves. They're much more agressive than the ones in Arusha.

Dar is HOT. It's situated right on the Indian Ocean, so it's about like Ohio's hottest and most humid day in July; only all year 'round. We were extremely fortunate to have box air conditioners in our hotel rooms, which were great when there was electricity. I'm extremely glad to be back in Arusha region, where everything is nice and cool. If you go down by the ocean, though, you can get a breeze. One of the highlights of the week for me was playing a game of Ultimate Frisbee on the shores of the Indian Ocean. (The third ocean I've seen in four months, I might add!)


There are also a lot more American/Mzungu attractions in Dar. Much more English is present, in signs, billboards, and local speech. It's actually quite depressing, how far removed a culture will become from itself when money is involved, not to mention values imposed by television, et. al. One particular place we visited was the American Club, a place out on the Peninsula (the highbrow district where many embassies are located.) It has satellite TV which gets them ESPN, CNN, and the Armed Forces networks. The prices are in dollars, and while by American standards the prices are cheap, when you convert to Tanzanian Shillings the prices become astronomical.


So now I'm back in Monduli. Since I'm replacing a PC Volunteer who's not leaving until January, I've not yet moved into my permanent residence. Instead, for the time being, I'm living at the "big house one the hill" that I mentioned before, the one belonging to the Lutheran volunteer. She's in the States visiting her folks until mid January, so I've got the place all to myself.

Since classes don't start until mid-late January, I'll have some time to get settled here. I'll be using this time to explore the town, buy anything I might need to make myself feel at home, and spend lots of time writing out my first few months worth of lesson plans, so I can be a little ahead of myself. Most importantly, I'm going to take this opportunity to get out into my community, and meet as many locals as possible. This will make the village a little safer for me, and also let me understand the fundamental workings of the town; knowing the proper channels helps when I may want to do something.

One last thing I'll have time for is a little more email than I've been able to do so far. I won't be able to do a lot of quick back-and-forth, since I still have to take the bus to Arusha whenever I want to send or receive. However, I'll have time to write more thoughtful responses, so I'm looking forward to hearing from you folks sometime soon.

Topics of some future mass-mails will include:
· The Kiswahili Language
· The Tanzanian Educational System
· The Maasai
· Medical Issues
· Tanzanian Food
· Peace Corps stories from around the country

Please feel free to suggest any topics, or anything in particular you'd like to hear about first. I hope to hear from you soon!

Uhuru na Umoja,

Return to Letters from Tanzania

18 December 1998

Here we are again,

Well! Many things to share this time, but really, first things first:


I bought a blender this week, a phenomenally useful thing to have what with all the mango, papaya, banana, etc. available here. Like most things that foreigners would want here, it's originally from an Arab country (being the closest place where wealthy people live), and so the primary directions are in Arabic. However, they provided a translation in English, which is entertaining enough to transcribe here en toto: (I made no typos here, this is the real deal. Now I know how my Kiswahili sounds to the my Tanzanian friends.)

BEFORE ANY USE: Be sure that the voltage on the card which is on the butom of this item is same as your voltage in your country. For careful, all items with 2 phase can be used on. Any mistake in miss using the suitable voltage cancel this guarantee.


-There is a curve in the top of the base can be fixed into the upper base.
-Put in the upper base completly with the main base be sure the electric is off. (electric circle is opened.)
-in this way the upper and main base together automaticly.
-Do not use the main base without putting the upper on.

THE MIXER: Capacity is one liter, made of clear quality
-The knife is consist of 4 parts made of stainless steel can work fastly to liquid the mixing things easily
-Put the thing you want to mix after you cut them then add some liquid not more than one liter.
-Put on the cover
-Close the electric cycle mix for 10-60 seconds.

(1) By using this blender you can get your fresh coffee daily at any time you like it.
(2) If you already have a coffee blender you may use this blender for other things.

Due to the knife it runs fastly so you may use this blender 15-20 seconds that depends on the condition of the items you are using.

(1) Cover and outer part with wet sponge.
(2) Inner part can be cleaned with dry sponge.
(3) For careful please separate parts before cleaning.

(1) By using this Blender you use it for hard things fastly.
(2) Cut the cheese to small pieces then put them into the blender not more than it's 2rds capacity
(3) Fixed the cover by your hand during using time.

Well, those are some of the highlights -- sorry if it's boring to you folks, but "The knife is consist of 4 parts made of stainless steel can work fastly to liquid the mixing things easily" made me happier than I can describe. J


I was in Arusha a few days ago and I saw on the TV that we had bombed Iraq out of the blue again. I don't know what the spin on it at home is, but for the rest of the world it only confirms that Americans, particularly the government, handles its foreign policy with the diplomacy of John Wayne and the A-Team; "blowing things up is a good solution to any problem." Since the bombings, I'm sure Saddam Hussein has had a complete change of heart due to his overwhelming empathy for his people, and production of all chemical and biological weapons has come to a screeching halt.

On the other hand, I heard (from a Tanzanian) that the soon-to-be-slightly-reduced Republicans are voting today (18th) on whether or not to impeach the president -- so now the bombings make sense. Wag that dog, Billy; Wag that dog. I have to say that one of the most wonderful things about being here is not having to deal with Ken Starr and Monica Lewinsky. This job has some perks!


I took a trip to Moshi (home of Mt. Kilimanjaro, about a 2.5 hour trip from here) this past Friday (11th) to visit the Peace Corps teachers there. We went out discoing. Just so you know, Tanzanian discos consist of roughly these percentages: 50% - Zaire Music (very distinct African style, kinda fun), 20% - American R&B and Rap, 30% - The cheesiest and most vapid American Techno music you can imagine (Is the song "I'm a Barbie Girl" popular over there? I hope, for all your souls, that it's not.)

I returned on Saturday to Arusha and spent a couple of nights with my host family (the Tanzanian family with whom I stayed during training.) One of my host brothers was being Confirmed into the Lutheran church (there are lots of Lutheran Tanzanians, possibly more than any other Christian denomination) and it was a big sherehe (ceremony/party).

The church service was so big it had to be held outdoors, keeping in mind there were about 60 young men and women being confirmed. And of course, people don't move around here like they do in the states, and they have their kids early and often, so each kid had at least 1-2 dozen guests.

We returned home after the 3 hour service for the party; my family had borrowed a tarp and all the neighbors' (in other words, their relatives') furniture. About 40-50 people were there, and lots of food. My family had slaughtered one of their three cows and one of their three goats for the occasion, so there was plenty of meat in all kinds of dishes. (I had always wondered why we kept three cows when only one of them gave milk).

Also, when I say my family slaughtered the animals, I do mean they killed them. My uncle and his oldest son came over and held the creatures down and cut their throats. I had the grand opportunity of watching them cut the cow's head off and split it up the middle to disembowel it. The goat was more disturbing, not for the killing, but because mama goat was still in the pen when younger goat was taken back into the woods behind the house -- I think she knew what was up, because she started bleating like I had never heard her do before, goat-style screaming... then the younger one would bleat back from the forest, and they would keep on doing so, so that mama could tell her child was still alive. Soon afterwards, there was only one of them bleating.

It definitely made me rethink some of my attitudes towards meat (and I'd already been a vegetarian for a few years before dropping it to come here) but I have to admit -- she was delicious. Still and all, I really think Americans in particular should try at least watching a slaughter, or better yet, performing it themselves, before they live their lives divorcing the meat on their plate from the animal they see and pet. Why do you think we have different words for 'cow' & 'beef', 'pig' & 'pork', etc.? Just a suggestion...


Or "No Electricity". When I returned from Arusha on Monday morning, there was no power. It continued to be off until Tuesday evening. Since then, it's been off at least once a day, although only of a half hour or so. Though my headmaster assures me that nowadays this is quite rare, it's not been my experience thus far. On my site visit in November, the power was out for a day and a half, and last week it was on and off periodically.

Most folks have one or two kerosene burners so they can get by food-wise when there's no power. Since I'm in this "advanced" house for a month, I actually have a (propane) gas stove which runs from a small tank. This is fine -- until the gas runs out. Which it did, right at the beginning of the outage this week. I was able to eat lunch in town, but I still had to cook food for the dog. (He gets ugali na samaki, a flour-cake dish with little sardine-like fish in it. Cheap and good for him.)

So I went out into the backyard, built a fire, and cooked his ugali over it. Big thanks go to my Boy Scout days... and while building and cooking over an open fire would be rather quick and easy if I had to do it every day like my host family; since I don't, I had to take time to find enough sticks, the right size rocks to put the pot on, etc. And of course, I didn't have a cover overhead for when it started raining. Live and Learn.


My Headmaster, who received a laptop as a gift from a German exchange organization, was asking me about the possibility of getting internet access sometime in the future. I told him first, the town would have to have a phone system that doesn't involve picking up the phone, turning the crank on the side to ring the operator, and then asking over crackly lines to be connected to another number, and asking three different operators questions to make sure you got the right number.

I made a call Wednesday to Kilimanjaro region, returning a call I'd gotten from a teacher there. The headmaster put in the request when I got there. About an hour later, the operator called back and had her on the line. The phone rings, I pick up the phone and say "hello" about a dozen times before it connects, and then I have to shout into the phone for her to hear me. After about ten minutes, we were disconnected mid-call, and couldn't re-establish contact. It may have been a problem with the Monduli, Arusha, or Moshi operators... who knows. I ended up sending a telegram instead.


I've gotten some great requests for future mailing topics, especially from fellow Linworth alumnus J. Austin Kerr. Thanks, and keep them coming. I may not address them right away, but I will get to them in time, never fear. We've got two years, of course, and my learning is just beginning!

Salama Kabisa,

Return to Letters from Tanzania

\9 January 1999

Hello again, friends... I hope your Christmas and New Year's events went well, and that coming back to work/school/America wasn't too unbearable. J

Myself, I spent Xmas day back in Arusha with my Tanzanian host family from training. For New Year's, I went down to Korogwe (about a 7-8 hour bus ride) and partied like it was 1999 with seven or so of my Peace Corps friends. I've also been back and forth to Moshi to see Brandon, the teacher closest to me (3 hour bus ride) a few times, sometimes for business, sometimes for pleasure.


One of the things I've been doing in some of my spare time is getting computers working. I already mentioned that my headmaster got a laptop as a gift from a school in Germany -- it's top-of-the-line, running Windows NT and all the latest hardware. My first order of business was, of course, to make sure it could print to the old dot-matrix printer the school has, circa 1986. This was quite a chore.

We also have some 286s we inherited from the same German school, I've been asked to work on those as well, except the key to the room in which they're being kept doesn't seem to work, so I'm waiting on that. On the other hand, there's a Peace Corps volunteer in Romvo, on the far side of Kilimanjaro, who heard that I was a computer fundi (fix-it-guy) and asked me to stop by her school.

[People not interested in computers and a lot of technical jargon may wish to skip this next section]

So in true Tz fashion, I took the required three buses to get there (1.5, 1.0, & 2.5 hours respectively) and surmised the situation. They had two 286s (the 286 was introduced around 1988, I think.) The one that was working was running MS-DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.1. Not too bad, except that there was no mouse driver on the machine, and so the mouse didn't work. Nor, of course, did the school have the Windows install disks that would have the appropriate software to solve such a problem. Not that that mattered much, either, because the disk drives on the machine didn't even work to begin with.

The other computer wouldn't boot up at all. On closer inspection I determined that this was because the hard drive was not physically attached... it was in the computer, just not plugged in to anything. Hooking it up was the easy part... then I had to go into the CMOS to tell the computer it now had a hard drive (a big pain in the ass. Especially when I didn't have all the specs on the hardware, and had to do lots of guesswork.)

Once I got the hard drive running, it booted up just fine -- in German. It was running MS-DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.1, both in German. Again, no working mouse, and no installation disks, so I had to edit the configuration files, and try to guess how the computer was responding by guessing which of the German error messages I was getting corresponded with the English error messages with which I was familiar.

I was unable to find what I needed to change the default language on the second computer so I decided to copy the entire operating system off of the first computer onto disks, and put it on the second one. Relatively easy, normally -- but remember the floppy disk drives on the first computer didn't work. So I took the working floppy drives out of the second computer, and put them in the first computer. I then discovered, when those floppy drives didn't work either, it was not in fact the floppy disk drives in the first computer that weren't working, but the thing inside the computer which controls them.

So, I tried the next option: I took the hard drive out of the first computer, and installed it in the second one (with all that messy mucking about in the CMOS). I then copied all of the English MS-DOS off that drive onto floppies (with the working floppy drives), and then switched the hard drives back again, and copied the files back onto the other hard drive.

There was some amount of pressure at this point, because if I didn't do it exactly right the first time, I had the potential at worst, to render the second computer completely useless, or at best, to have to do the whole process of switching drives all over again.

[Non tech folks can start reading again here!] J

In the end, I got things working as best I could, which meant things weren't ideal, but a lot better than they were before. The long and short of it is, every step of the way, some problem would crop up that would make that step take much longer than it would normally, but not quite impossible -- pretty daunting, and yet intriguing for a semi-technical person like me who enjoys a challenge. Some of my Computer Engineering friends from college probably could have whipped through it in no time; I had to push the absolute limits of my hardware/software knowledge.


I've gotten requests from many folks to talk about what I've been eating here. The diet is in fact, much more bland than I thought it would be. I'd had Ethiopian food many times in the States and enjoyed it quite a bit, which was what I was expecting... turned out to be quite a different story - but it has its gems.

First, how it's cooked. Depending on the wealth of the individual family, you'll see one of these three: Fire, kerosene burner, electric stove/oven. Cooking by fire is what it sounds like, you get three big rocks of equal size, build a fire between them, and put your pot down on them. The kerosene burners are slick little things that work like oil lamps, with a ring of about 8 wicks that stick up; how much of the wicks stick up (and consequently how high the flame is) is controlled by a knob; Then there's a grating to keep your pot steady. The typical electric oven is about the size of an early-80s American countertop microwave, with two burners on top.

It's important to understand my comment about relative wealth, though. My host family was probably in about the 70th-80th percentile as far as wealth goes, and they cooked over two fires and one kerosene burner. Electric burners/ovens are pretty rare, and I'm lucky enough to have one in my house here in Monduli.

Here's a rundown of what my host family served, which is fairly typical of the average families I've seen here. (Next time, I may discuss the kinds of things I fix for myself nowadays.) On a given night, you'd typically see any six of the following dishes:

* Wali
* : Plain white rice, to be topped with a sauce-dish. Maharage
* : Beans. In some sort of mildly flavored sauce. Some nights it did it for me, other nights, it didn't. Nyama
: Meat. Almost always cow or goat*, the two most common livestock here. Chicken is somewhat common, but people eat it more in cafes than they do at home. The nyama is almost always boiled, in some sort of sauce that defies description (but is usually pretty good!)

*Like most of the world, Tanzanians use the same word for the animal as they do for the meat of that animal. Hence, no distinction between "cow" and "beef", etc. I prefer this to the English convention.

* Nyama Choma
* : Roasted meat. A BIG improvement over boiled. However, I've never had it in a home, just in restaurants. Another note on meat: In the city, you can buy it at the butcher's who buys it from local folks. Here in Monduli, you can get it at the butcher's, but you're more dependent on what's been slaughtered that week. Taking that as given, the best way is to go straight to the source: It's fairly common to see paper signs posted on trees saying something like "The Kisaka family is slaughtering their goat Thursday. If you want to buy some, stop by the house around 4:00." Ndizi
* : Cooked bananas (plantains), usually with chunks of cow in it. Cooked bananas are pretty much flavorless, kind of like boiled potatoes, only with less flavor. Sometimes ndizi comes fried, which is like fried potatoes, only tougher and much less flavorful. Pilau
* : From our word, pilaf, but not much like it -- though it's a real nice treat. It's rice with some local spices (including cloves and cinnamon) and chunks of cow. The guy at the Green Door Cafe here in Monduli has some of the best pilau in the country. UGALI
* : The classic Tanzanian carbohydrate. It's corn flour mixed heavily into boiling water. The result is, you get a kind of big round cake with a consistency that's about twice as thick as mashed potatoes. What you do is, take a hunk of this stuff in your hand and dip it in whatever sauce your ndizi or nyama is in. The biggest bonus is that it is incredibly cheap to make. Uji
* : Like ugali, but with a much higher water-to-flour ratio. Comes out as a porridge that isn't half bad once you add sugar. Sort of like Cream-of-Wheat or "grits" without the butter. Macaroni
* : It's actually what we'd call spaghetti, but "macaroni" is the commonly used Kiswahili for any form of pasta -- despite the fact that the only form of pasta I've ever seen here is spaghetti. Softened by boiling, the cooking process is completed by sauteeing it with lots of margarine and a little salt. Mchicha
* : Kind of like collared greens. Kabichi
* : Cabbage, carrots, and green peppers; all shredded and boiled. Chapati
* : Somewhere between a soft tortilla and a pancake. Eat it by itself or tear off pieces and grab your other food with it. Mmm! Matunda
* : Fresh fruit, almost every meal. The most common are mango, papaya, and banana (the non-cooking kind). Occasionally pineapple or avocado, though they're more expensive. Kachumbari
* : One of my favorites. It's just raw thinly sliced tomatoes, onions, cucumber, and some salt. When I make it, I add garlic & olive oil. Try it! Chipsi
* : Chips. That's the British 'chips', what Americans would call "fries". They're fried in a pan instead of deep-fried, but they're pretty much the same. CHIPSI MAYAI
* : Chips and eggs -- Far and away my favorite food here. Never once had it with my host family; like chicken, it's more common to see it in restaurants than in the home. Fry up your chipsi, and then break an egg into it like an omlette, but don't worry about keeping it in one piece. I throw in tomatoes, onions, and green peppers before the eggs. It's cholesterrific! Sambusas
* : Samosas. Another "just-in-restaurants food". A little Indian snack where you wrap ground meat or veggies in a thin layer of dough (always triangle-shaped) and deep fry it. Keki
(Cakey): Cake! Only made and eaten for very special occasions. I've had it at my host brother's high school graduation party, and at my other host brother's Lutheran confirmation party. There's a whole ritual that goes along with it:

After the meal, the cake is brought out and everyone sings a song (which everyone here knows) with this simple melody, and the only word is "Keki" sung over and over again to this melody. Then the guest of honor (in this case, my host brother) takes a small piece with a fork (the cake is torn into small pieces, not slices, so everyone can have a little) and his father (baba) comes to the table, where the son feeds him the piece of cake straight off the fork. While the Baba is approaching the table, they continue singing the song, only singing "Baba" instead of "Keki." This process continues on with all the other members of the family and guests. (Fortunately, all Swahili words for relatives have two syllables.)

One last note on Keki: "Keki" has come to also mean any kind of special food used for this kind of occasion... don't be surprised if they start singing the "keki" song and they bring out a whole roasted goat!


Chai au Kahawa: Tea or coffee. Both are made with milk instead of water; if you want it with water you have to say so beforehand. Also keep in mind all milk here is whole milk from the cow in your backyard (or your neighbor's). Boil the tea leaves (or instant coffee) in the milk with some sugar, and then pour it through a strainer into a thermos, which is then brought to the table for serving. I actually prefer my coffee this way; I'm not quite sold on the tea yet. Do keep in mind that most of the work- and school-day is based on the British system; the Chai Break at 10 AM is a critical part of the day. It's when most schools have their staff meeting or announcements.

Because water or milk here must be boiled before you drink it, and because few people have refrigerators, soda and beer are more common to drink, as they are sometimes cheaper liter for liter than bottled water. (Also note that "bottled water" here is just water; it doesn't have any special minerals or filtering like American bottled water) So....


Coca Cola (and its related products) are and have been for decades the soft drink of choice for Tanzanians, though Pepsi seems to have come on the scene sometime in the early nineties with a strong advertising campaign. Consequently, the signs for most stores, restaurants, even towns, are either Coke signs with B&W lettering or Pepsi signs with B&W lettering. Billboards are everywhere, too.

Note that just because a bar, restaurant, or shop has a Coke or Pepsi sign, or posters of same, doesn't necessarily mean they actually have that beverage. It just means Coke paid for their sign.

Also, Coke-Affiliated beverages are different here. There is Sprite (Tii kiu yako -- obey your thirst) but there's no Mr. Pibb/Dr. Pepper type thing. And does anyone remember Fanta? It was a Coke-affiliated orange soda until the early eighties when Coke struck a deal with Minute Maid. Well, in the rest of the world, it's still Fanta Fanta Fanta! In addition to Orange (the most common), there's Blackcurrant, Red, and new Fanta Passion! (Passionfruit -- it's excellent!) You may find it amusing that Fanta's advertising slogan is "Welcome to the World!"

Another interesting Coke beverage is Stoney Tangawizi. Tangawizi is the Swahili word for "Ginger", and that's what it is -- a ginger ale with a really strooooong ginger taste. If you've ever had a really strong, bite-you-back type ginger brew, you'll know what it's like. It's everywhere.

BEER: (Mmmmmm.... Beer....)

Tanzania actually has two major breweries which supply most of the beer for the country -- I'm quite pleased with this, because it's one of the few really strong and widely used local industries. There's Tanzania Breweries Ltd. in Arusha, and Serengeti Breweries in Dar Es Salaam. We actually took a tour of the Arusha brewing/bottling plant (it's walking distance from the PC Training site!)

They produce 4 different beers, and as far as I can tell, the only difference between them is the % alcohol, which is varied by adding carbonated water to the final mix. Despite this fact, they're not too bad; considerably better than Budweiser, but still a long way from microbrew.

The % alcohol is actually a selling point, because they're required by law to put it on the label. The Arusha brewery recently introduced a brand new beer, Bia Bingwa ("Beer Champion") with a whopping 7% alcohol; which as you might imagine, immediately became a way to show off one's testosterone. It should also be noted that beer here comes in 500-ml bottles (about 17.6 oz) so drinking 2 Bingwas is the same amount of alcohol as in a six-pack of cheap American beer.

The one non-African beer (there are a few Kenyan beers and a South African beer that are common) is Guinness Extra Stout. Now before you go getting all excited, it's actually the Foreign Extra Stout, which tastes like standard Irish/American Guinness with a handful of powdered chalk thrown in. Can't stand the stuff. However, there's a huge ad campaign ("Guinness: The Power!") and the Guinness slogan is still intact (which you can see everywhere but in America, where it's illegal): "Guinness is Good for You."


This is one of my favorite things about Tanzania. When you go to a bar/restaurant/etc. and order a soda or beer, you can't just walk away with it. You have to drink it there, and return the bottle. If you want to take the bottle with you, you have to pay an additional 50 shillings over the regular price of 200.

This is because (in the case of soda) the bar will then take all their empty bottles to the bottling center (there are a dozen scattered throughout Arusha alone, and most small towns have at least one) which is basically the "trailer" part of a tractor trailer. Here, they clean out the bottles and refill and recap them. So if you own a bar, you'd send your kid to the bottling place where he can trade in empty bottles and some money for full ones.

If you're in the habit of entertaining frequently, and always want to have some bottles on hand, you can pay the extra amount to have say, a dozen bottles. Then when people are coming over, you take your empty bottles down to the bar and trade them in for full ones you can take back home, and you only have to pay the base 200 shillings. Although, if the guy at the bar knows you, he may just let you borrow the bottles for a night, and return them the next day.

Beer is a slightly different story. Since beer has to be bottled at the Brewery, people are much more reluctant to lend them out, since it's difficult and expensive for bars to buy new bottles. When we were on the Brewery tour, we actually got to see the whole process - it's pretty cool.

The empty bottles (with the old labels still on and dregs in the bottom) are thrown onto a conveyor belt down on the ground level in the standard 25-bottle (5x5) crate. The belt takes the crates up to the second floor, where the bottles are taken from the crates and run through this great big machine that automatically cleans, washes, soaks, and removes the labels from the old bottles. The whole process is completely mechanized. Then they continue on down the line, where they're filled, capped, and new labels are put on, and then they return to the first floor to be shipped out. Again, the whole thing is done in one fell swoop, no pauses, no human intervention except when there's a problem. You can stand there and watch the bottles go out at the same rate they came in. It's awesome.

The thing I like: It is economically advantageous to the companies and to the country to do this; as opposed to America where it's cheaper just to waste more raw materials. Add to this equation the fact that there's no garbage collection here; everyone has to burn or otherwise get rid of their own trash, so not having to figure out how to get rid of bottles is a boon to the people as well.

The sad thing is that here in Tanzania, we have this completely developed localized system; evolved out of many years of this process... and I'd bet that if such a process and a mentality were in place in America, it would actually save companies money (not to mention spare resources and minimize trash.) But Americans don't want "reused" bottles, unless they're melted down and recast (which is totally unnecessary, sanitarily speaking.) Plus, people wouldn't want the "inconvenience" of always having to return their bottles instead of just throwing them away.

So much for the "developed" world.

Well, on that happy note, I'll say that this is already quite long. So until next time,

Mzitumia mara nyingi chupa zenu,

A "blue moon" refers to the second full moon in a single month. Since the moon cycle is ~28 days, this rare event usually happens only every ~27 months or so (I think.) However, 1999 will see TWO blue moons in three months -- in the only way astronomically possible: Two full moons in January, NONE in February, and two in March. I encourage you all to get outside with your loved ones to enjoy an event that occurs much less often than "once in a blue moon"!

Return to Letters from Tanzania

By zonyajeffrey on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 3:51 pm: Edit Post

my name is zonya and i will be travelling from uk to Tz in october. i want to send my books over to help me with my job in a hospital in ifakara-morogoro region. any ideas?

By clare mendham ( - on Thursday, July 22, 2004 - 7:45 am: Edit Post

hi, my name is clare mendham and i came across your site by chance. i go to the international school in germany that you have mentioned and i have just spent the past 4 weeks out in tanzania with a group of 16 spending 3 weeks teaching in a summer school program for form 4's at moringe sokoine secondary school. when were you there? what is your organisation about? i hope you found your stay comfortable and you enjoyed yourself i know we all did very much and are finding it very hard to come back to dusseldorf. it was nice to hear your view on things though. thank you.

By Kit Mitchell ( - on Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 12:32 am: Edit Post

First, Ethan, thanks for your wonderful and expressive insights into your experiences as a volunteer in Tanzania, I just accepted a Peace Corp invitation in a secondary science teaching position heading to Tanzania in September of this year, so your words were more helpful than you could possibly know...I'm at the beginning, and haven't quite stepped outside my ingrained paradigms-and I won't be able to until I truly do step out of them and into the Tanzanian, but I am ready to.....anyway, thank you again for sharing your experience, best wishes in life,

By Ahmed ( on Wednesday, August 04, 2010 - 4:33 am: Edit Post

Where are mr ethan field, I am mr ahmed Fazal from Mwanza, tanzania.

By ( on Saturday, April 20, 2013 - 3:20 am: Edit Post

Am beatrice from Arusha I like to do my field with u people in one heart I will do it.thnks and I wish u nice day

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